A note to those concerned with Auroville and Auroville International

Aug 4, 2022 | Organisation & governance, Processes by-passed, Take over

by Rod Hemsell


The government appointed administration (AVFO) has taken over virtually the entire administrative structure of Auroville as well as its communication platforms, which were developed by the community during the past 40 years, in just a matter of months, and it is asserting its intention to undertake a rapid material expansion of infrastructure and buildings in order to accomplish the seemingly unrealistic goal of adding and accommodating a population increase of 10,000 in a few years. This new administration is being served by a relatively small group of perhaps 50-60 Aurovilians, many of whom work in the planning and technology sectors, and it is hiring government contractors to do the work. At the same time, the 150th Birth Anniversary of Sri Aurobindo, coming on 15th August, is being used by this administration, and by the central government of India in general, to popularize and justify the imposition of its “takeover” of Auroville in the name of Sri Aurobindo, thus undermining all of the basic principles and ideals of Auroville as they are generally understood by a large number of committed residents. One question that is currently being raised, as the decisions of the High Court are awaited concerning several disputes that have arisen, and as the difficulties of the situation steadily increase, is whether the members of Auroville International abroad can understand all of this well enough to be willing to take a strong position, along with those in Auroville who are experiencing and who oppose the government takeover. And can the AVIs help?

The situation with AVI (Auroville International has branches in many countries and supports the project in various ways) is very complex and indicative of a reality that even those in Auroville have difficulty facing. The division here is real and pervasive; even in the forum discussing this question, which is made up of staunch opponents of the takeover, we could see the division in the recent issue of the RoR. The Register of Residents is being used as a ploy by the AVFO to prevent the Residents’ Assembly from taking any actions until it has complied with the requirement that every resident must fill out a new admissions form in order to be considered residents, a clear example of the authoritarian and draconian nature of this new administration. Many have resisted complying with the demand. At the same time a case has been filed by members of the Residents’ Assembly challenging this attempt to annul the authority of the RA on such spurious grounds.

Between the two Working Committees (one representing the Residents’ Assembly and the other representing the Foundation Office, as I have explained in previous articles) and the groups they represent, between the RA and the GB/Sec, there is a seemingly unbridgeable and growing division. The AVIs of course really want to support the Auroville they believe in, and apparently not the one that is undergoing this strife, for understandable reasons. We can see the falsehood, the lies, the perversions behind the mask, sometimes quite vividly, and daily, but even here not everyone sees these things clearly. Therefore some of us have been saying for months that the Court has to make the call that can create an opening for moving forward. But it is difficult for them too, no doubt. There is the “law” and then there are the many interpretations and opinions. When the AVFO takes over the Town Hall and tries to prevent the legitimately selected members of various committees from using its offices, and appoints its own alternative committees to replace those selected by the RA, and then claims its alternates to be the legitimate representatives, who can understand such a twisted situation – much less believe it, wherever one may live? When the AVFO issues Office Orders threatening to halt payments to all Auroville projects unless the financial data is turned over, and then when it has the data it disbands the duly appointed committee and takes control of the budgets, who can fathom such turpitude in Auroville? Can the AVI centers and their donors have any confidence in such an unstable situation? When Auroville experienced a similar period of turbulence in the 70s most of the foreign support was eventually withdrawn. The AVIs are certainly aware of this history because it constituted the grounds for their existence.

Many of the people who are with Madam Secretary today probably see her public displays of devotion as sincere, and can perhaps identify with it. She often refers to her mission to realize the Mother’s dream as though it is her primary motivation, while at the same time she constantly disparages the actual achievements of those who have committed their lives to this same mission. As we can witness in the “gnostic conversations,” a broadcast presentation that she organized on 1st August, and which is available on youtube, there was a real sense of devotion expressed by the entire panel of participants, which under other circumstances would have been seen as something genuine and very typically “Indian” in a traditional way. But the fact that this “devotion” is being directed in an authoritarian way by the Secretary to subvert the organization of Auroville and to deny the rights of its residents, with a strong flavor of theocratic nationalism, and with apparent disregard of the truth (as I will show), makes it difficult to accept her intention as an expression of genuine devotion. For example, one of the speakers at the presentation, Karthikeyan, an elder gentleman, is referred to in comments by Madam Secretary as a “Top Cop” because he was once head of the CBI, (and the Board Chairman, Tamil Nadu Gov. R. N. Ravi too is one of those former “top cops”), and she conveyed the sense that these gentlemen are really respected both as “devotees” and as “men of power;” it is obvious that they are also close to PM Modi. In fact, Karthikeyan said to this group, “I want to tell you that N. Modi is a gift of God to humanity.” And his presentation was about Modi, not Sri Aurobindo. For these government professionals who have served Modi in Gujarat in the past, including the Secretary, it is easy, even natural, to use Sri Aurobindo as a symbolic “godhead” sanctioning their beliefs and their actions. In fact it is typical in this cultural context to confuse the spiritual and the political, in ways that are not common elsewhere. But from the point of view of the victims of this power trip it is absolutely contrary to the ideals we believe in, and to the principles of democracy. This is obviously much too complicated even for many Aurovilians to comprehend, so we should not be too concerned about the AVI folks’ confusion. I know many of its members personally, they are friends and brothers and sisters, but however much I dislike their “neutrality,” I also see that it is their way to cope with the very difficult reality that we have to deal with here face to face, while they must try to carry on their business as usual far away from the source. Let me demonstrate the difficulty as we experience it directly in concrete terms.

Recently, in a letter to the AVIs around the world, the Working Committee of the AVFO, legitimized by Madam Secretary weeks after the Residents’ Assembly had deselected several of its members and reconstituted its legitimate WC by a vote of 800 to 80 (with a quorum of only 240 being required), this false WC claimed: “Unfortunately, as you may have heard, a section of Aurovilians continues to protest against the present crown and city development for different reasons, but mainly because they do not agree with the gazetted Master Plan based on the city plan which had been worked out by the Mother with her chief architect Roger Anger during the course of 3 years. This section is trying to stop and delay the development, they have even filed court cases against the Foundation and against individual Aurovilians. Some of these groups are very vocal and active and have created parallel working groups in protest against the Foundation.” This letter is signed: “Anu, Arun, Joseba, Srimoyi, Partha, Selvaraj, Tine (Working Committee of the Residents Assembly)”. Notwithstanding pertinent facts like the Master Plan was made and approved by the RA only in 1999 and was never implemented, this statement is false in every respect and it clearly demonstrates what I have referred to as the confusion and perversity of the situation that we are dealing with. The Auroville community has repeatedly expressed its commitment to development according to the Master Plan, and held a monthlong seminar earlier in the year to demonstrate this in the most technical, and politically inclusive way. Its opposition is only to a wrong interpretation of the MP, and to an authoritarian approach that denies the rights and responsibilities of the Residents’ Assembly to be involved in its execution. Then, as we see in the letter, this group of Madam’s supporters and appointees claims to be the working committee of the Residents’ Assembly, and that it is we who have set up parallel working groups! Both of these obvious falsehoods are a direct reflection of the Secretary’s words and actions. These false groups are her minions and not representatives of the Residents’ Assembly.

In a letter to the community on 24th June 2022, the duly selected and representative members of the Working Committee, whose names are Chali, Elisa, Gilles, Hemant, Juergen, Sauro, wrote in an official report to the community and the Secretary: “Selection of members of the Residents’ Assembly for the Working Committee, FAMC, Entry Board/Admission Committee, Exit/Termination Committee, Town Development Council, Auroville Council or any other group or committee constituted under section 19.3 of the Auroville Foundation Act, 1988, is the prerogative of the Residents’ Assembly. If any of the other two authorities, namely the Governing Board or the International Advisory Council, would like to propose membership for any such groups or committees, then the right authority to collaborate with would be the Residents’ Assembly through its duly-selected Working Committee. …A case was filed by the Working Committee of the Residents’ Assembly represented by Hemant L. on Monday 13th June 2022 at the Madras High Court in Chennai. The request made to the honourable High Court is to ask the Auroville Foundation represented by its Secretary to abstain from interfering with the work of the Residents’ Assembly and their lawful Working Committee.” Subsequently the Secretary has constituted parallel working groups in every area mentioned without consultation and in defiance of the authority of the Residents’ Assembly.

To further illustrate this game of shadows and mirrors that we are being forced to play out before the world, I would like to refer to the most recent, and third, video presentation by Madam Secretary, as I have done in previous articles with regard to her first two videos. In this third presentation she begins by mentioning some of the AVFO’s grandiose plans for development which she says are “relentlessly opposed” by a small section of Auroville that is generally opposed to development as such, as also stated in the letter to AVI. She then mentions the hundreds of unsubmitted RoR forms that must be filled out as a “duty to Auroville, the country, and the world” so that the processes that have been put on pause (by her) can move forward. In other words, the blockages that her destructive actions have brought about, and her denial of the functions of the Residents’ Assembly through this RoR requirement, are blamed on the victims of her destructive and divisive impositions of authority. Then, in her presentation, she refers to a meeting she recently had with a young woman who has grown up in Auroville and who didn’t seem to have any understanding of the gist of the Auroville Charter! It is this demeaning and disparaging tone, interwoven with skewed descriptions of events and distorted remarks about the actual situation that have become the public persona of this professedly devoted advocate of the Mother’s Auroville.

Secretary Ravi then concludes her presentation with a rather long recital of a letter of Sri Aurobindo from 1926 in which he is critical of celebrations of his birthday which he says should instead be honored by introspection and self-dedication to Yoga. This is the pretext in which she announces the celebrations her people are planning for the 150th Birth Anniversary of Sri Aurobindo, which we should use, she says, on this occasion along with every other day of the month, and the year, to rededicate ourselves to “the dream of the Mother and this beautiful city.” Needless to say, the celebrations include panel discussions such as the one already mentioned, and numerous additional “outer” presentations and performances that appear to be anything but introspective. The public “celebration” of Sri Aurobindo’s advent as a political and spiritual leader of India is an overt politicization of the religion that is being made of Sri Aurobindo here, which also has the unambiguous intention of religionizing the politics of Auroville in the name of PM Modi. In other words, this very duplicitous and divisive lady’s professions of devotion, along with her authoritarian politics, are a clear demonstration of the falsehood that is undermining the truth of Auroville, and which these public pretenses are meant to conceal. One thing she has said that is true, however, which was highlighted in a previous article, is that “the opposition to her administration is a reaction to the disruption of the status quo” that her administration is determined to achieve. By disrupting the status quo instead of using it in a constructive manner was the first big mistake, and it can only lead to continual fracturing unless it is successfully opposed and reversed. This is the agenda that many of us in Auroville genuinely hope our friends and supporters in AVIs around the world will join us to achieve.